An Apology for Koranic Antisemitism?

Two months after the mass murdering  acts of jihad terrorism on 9/11/01, Dr. Walid Fataihi, director of "outreach" for the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), who still serves on the ISB Board of Directors, boasted that this carnage engendered two related "successes" -enhanced Muslim proselytization efforts, and damage to Christian-Jewish relations in the U.S.

Fitaihi crowed,

"...the Muslim community in the U.S. in general, and in Boston in particular, has begun to trouble the Zionist lobby."
He continued triumphantly, quoting the Koran (3:112/ 2:61 (see also this).

The words of the Koran on this matter are true: "They [the Jews] will be humiliated wherever they are found, unless they are protected under a covenant with Allah, or a covenant with another people. They [the Jews] have incurred Allah's wrath and they have been afflicted with misery. That is because they continuously rejected the Signs of Allah and were after slaying the Prophets without just cause, and this resulted from their disobedience and their habit of transgression." The great Allah spoke words of truth. Their covenant with America is the strongest possible in the U.S., but it is weaker than they think, and one day their covenant with the [American] people will be cut off.
During a private meeting with some 25 lay and religious leaders convened at the Workmen's Circle in Brookline, Massachusetts on April 6, 2007-nearly 5 ½ years later-Fitaihi was reported to have offered a belated apology for his November 11, 2001 remarks. The dubious sincerity of this putative act of contrition aside-it occurred as the ISB is embroiled in a bitter and debilitating legal dispute with members of the local Jewish community-did Fitaihi actually apologize for invoking Koran 3:112/2:61, and their virulently antisemitic contents?

As a central anti-Jewish motif, the Koran decrees an eternal curse upon the Jews (Koran 2:61/ 3:112) for slaying the prophets and transgressing against the will of Allah. This motif is coupled to Koranic verses 5:60 and 5:78 which describe the Jews transformation into apes and swine (5:60), having been "...cursed by the tongue of David, and Jesus, Mary's son" (5:78). The related verse, 5:64, accuses the Jews-as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did in a January 2007 speech, citing Koran 5:64-of being "spreaders of war and corruption", a sort of ancient Koranic antecedent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

From the advent of Islam, dehumanizing Jews as apes (Koran 2:65/7:166), or apes and pigs (Koran 5:60) transcended any mere application to "Sabbath breakers." Muhammad himself, in both the sira (early, sacralized Muslim biographies) of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa‘d, referred to the Medinan Jews of the Banu Qurayza as "apes" just before orchestrating the slaughter of all their post-pubertal men.

This sacralized massacre is the prototype. Large scale massacres of Jews by Muslims occurred in Granada (circa 1066;  4000 killed, and Jewish society destroyed; more Jews killed in this one pogrom than in the Crusaders' much more infamous ravages through the Rhineland 30 years later); Baghdad (1290/91; hundreds killed with pogroms extending throughout Iraq, and into Persia); and the southern Moroccan oasis town of Touat (~ 1490; many Jews killed, and their Temple destroyed).

Each of these massacres was incited and/or celebrated by depictions of Jews as apes in verses by popular clerics-in the case of Touat, the "composer" of such a verse al-Maghili (d. 1505), an important Muslim theologian whose writings influenced Moroccan religious attitudes towards Jews into the 20th century-led the pogrom himself. Maghili also declared in verse, "Love of the Prophet, requires hatred of the Jews."

The centrality of the Jews' permanent "abasement and humiliation," and being "laden with God's anger" in the corpus of Muslim exegetic literature on Koran 2:61 (including the hadith and Koranic commentaries), is clear. By nature deceitful and treacherous, the Jews rejected Allah's signs and prophets, including Isa, the Muslim Jesus. Classical Koranic commentators such as Tabari (d. 923), Zamakshari (d. 1143), Baydawi (d. 1316), and Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), when discussing Koran 5:82 ("Thou wilt surely find the most hostile of men to the believers are the Jews and the idolaters; and thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say 'We are Christians'; that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud."), concur on the unique animus of the Jews towards the Muslims, which is repeatedly linked to the curse of  Koran 2:61. For example, in his commentary on 5:82, Tabari writes,

In my opinion, [the Christians] are not like the Jews who always scheme in order to murder the emissaries and the prophets, and who oppose God in his positive and negative commandments, and who corrupt His scripture which He revealed in His books.
Tabari's  classical interpretations of Koran 5:82 and 2:61,  as well as his discussion of the related verse 9:29 mandating the Jews payment of the jizya (Koranic poll-tax), represent both Antisemitic and more general anti-dhimmi views that became, and remain, intrinsic to Islam to this day. Here is Tabari's discussion of 2:61 and its relationship to verse 9:29, which emphasizes the purposely debasing nature of the Koranic poll tax:

..."abasement and poverty were imposed and laid down upon them", as when someone says "the imam imposed the poll tax (jizya)on free non-Muslim subjects", or "The man imposed land tax on his slave", meaning thereby that he obliged him [to pay ] it, or, "The commander imposed a sortie on his troops", meaning he made it their duty....God commanded His believing servants not to give them [i.e., the non-Muslim people of the scripture] security-as long as they continued to disbelieve in Him and his Messenger-unless they paid the poll tax to them; God said: "Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden-such men as practice not the religion of truth [Islam], being of those who have been given the Book [Bible]-until they pay the poll tax, being humble" (Koran 9:29).. The dhimmis [non-Muslim tributary's] posture during the collection of the jizya- "[lowering themselves] by walking on their hand, ...reluctantly

...Ibn Zaid said about His words "and abasement and poverty were imposed upon them", ‘These are the Jews of the Children of Israel'. I said: ‘Are they the Copts of Egypt?' He said: "What have the Copts of Egypt to do with this? No, by God, they are not; but they are the Jews, the Children of Israel....By "and slain the prophets unrightfully" He means that they used to kill the Messengers of God without God's leave, denying their messages and rejecting their prophethood.

Indeed the Koran's overall discussion of the Jews is marked by a litany of their sins and punishments, as if part of a divine indictment and conviction process. The Jews wronged themselves (16:118) by losing faith (7:168) and breaking their covenant (5:13). The Jews (echoing an ante-Nicaean, Marcionite polemic) are a nation that has passed away (2:134; repeated in 2:141). Twice Allah sent his instruments (the Assyrians/or Babylonians, and Romans) to punish this perverse people (17:4-5)-their dispersal over the earth is proof of Allah's rejection (7:168).

The Jews are further warned about both their arrogant claim that they remain Allah's chosen people (62:6), and continued disobedience and "corruption" (5:32-33) Other sins, some repeated, are enumerated: abuse, even killing of prophets (4:155; 2:91), including Isa [Jesus] (3:55; 4:157), is a consistent theme. The Jews ridiculed Muhammad as Ra'ina (the evil one, in 2:104; 4:46), and  they are also accused of lack of faith, taking words out of context, disobedience, and distortion (4:46). Precious few of them are believers (also 4:46). These "perverse" creatures also claim that Ezra is the messiah and they worship rabbis who defraud men of their possessions (9:30).

Additional sins are described: the Jews are typified as an "envious" people (2:109), whose hearts are as hardened as rocks (2:74). They are further accused of confounding the truth (2:42), deliberately perverting scripture (2:75), and being liars (2:78). Ill-informed people of little faith (2:89), they pursue vague and wishful fancies (2:111). Other sins have contributed to their being stamped (see 2:61/ 3:112 above) with "wretchedness/abasement and humiliation," including-usury (2:275), sorcery (2:102), hedonism (2:96), and idol worship (2:53).

More (and repeat) sins, are described still: the Jews' idol worship is again mentioned (4:51), then linked and followed by charges of other (often repeat) iniquities-the "tremendous calumny" against Mary (4:156), as well as usury and cheating (4:161). Most Jews are accused of being "evil-livers" /"transgressors" /"ungodly" (3:110), who, deceived by their own lies (3:24), try to turn Muslims from Islam (3:99). Jews are blind and deaf to the truth (5:71), and what they have not forgotten they have perverted-they mislead (3:69), confound the truth (3:71), twist tongues (3:79), and cheat Gentiles without remorse (3:75).

Muslims are advised not to take the Jews as friends (5:51), and to beware of the inveterate hatred that Jews bear towards them (5:82). The Jews' ultimate sin and punishment are made clear: they are the devil's minions (4:60) cursed by Allah, their faces will be obliterated (4:47), and if they do not accept the true faith of Islam-the Jews who understand their faith become Muslims (3:113)-they will be made into apes (2:65/ 7:166), or apes and swine (5:60), and burn in the Hellfires (4:55, 5:29, 98:6, and 58:14-19).

The essential nature of the Koranic "revelation", as understood by Muslims, was elaborated in 1891 by Theodore Nöldeke (whose seminal 1860 Geschichte des Qorans remains a vital tool for Koranic research):

To the faith of the Muslims...the Koran is the word of God, and such also is the claim which the book itself advances...

And to this day, for the Muslim masses, as Ibn Warraq notes,

...the Koran remains the infallible word of God, the immediate word of God sent down, through the intermediary of a "spirit" or "holy spirit" or Gabriel, to Muhammad in perfect, pure Arabic; and every thing contained therein is eternal and uncreated. The original text is in heaven...The angel dictated the revelation to the Prophet, who repeated it after him, and then revealed it to the world. Modern Muslims also claim that these revelations have been preserved exactly as revealed to Muhammad, without any change, addition, or loss whatsoever...the Koran remains for all Muslims, and not just "fundamentalists" the uncreated word of God Himself. It is valid for all times and places; its ideals are, according to all Muslims, absolutely true and beyond any criticism. [emphasis added]
Thus it strains credibility to assume that Dr. Fitaihi-a pious Muslim actively engaged in politicized da'wa-would have apologized for his invocation of antisemitic motifs from the Koran, the Jews' traits as characterized therein being deemed both infallible and timeless. Equally important and related concerns were raised by Boston area blogger Solomonia, who observed,

We don't have any wording from the "apology," nor do we know who, exactly, was at the meeting. How do we measure this? Fitaihi jetted into town, then just as quickly jetted out after facing what looks like a friendly audience and no serious or skeptical questioning-a group who then...surprise...pronounce him absolved.
The Fitaihi affair-a depressing web of deceit, denial, and delusion-epitomizes the sorry state of public understanding of Islamic antisemitism, most ominously, by its victims.

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (2005), and the forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism (2007), which can be previewed here.